Primary results to be audited

Normally the word “audit” sends chills down the spines of those who hear it, particularly in a town like this, but for the town’s registrars of voters it’s another day at the office.

As part of state-mandated checkups on last month’s primary for the United States Senate nominations, Greenwich will be doing a hand recount of all the ballots cast in District 8. But this isn’t because there have been any questions of malfeasance or because someone suddenly discovered a bag of votes for Chris Shays and Susan Bysiewicz shoved in a corner. Rather this is a standard review done by the secretary of the state’s office throughout Connecticut.

Last Friday, a random selection was made of all the voting precincts in the state to determine which ones will audit results. Greenwich, as is typical, is one of those municipalities and District 8, which covers the Cos Cob area, was the lucky winner of the review. All the precincts chosen will have until Sept. 17 to do their hand recounts and Democratic Registrar of Voters Sharon Vecchiolla told the Post this week that it will take place here on Sept. 10 in the Town Hall Meeting Room.

In a press release announcing the audit, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said the audit ensures the accuracy of the optical scanners the state uses for voting machines. In total 60 precincts are being audited.

“We are committed to making sure Connecticut voters have continued confidence that their votes were recorded accurately and that’s why these independent audits are so vital,” Ms. Merrill said. “Auditing election results isn’t just a good idea, it’s absolutely essential in order to guarantee the integrity of our elections. We don’t just take the machines’ word for it. So we will have every ballot cast in a full 10% of precincts using optical scan machines hand counted and matched against the machine totals. Connecticut has the toughest elections audit law in the country and I am confident that following this audit the numbers will once again match.”

The primary race was the only one on the ballot in Greenwich. In that race both Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Chris Murphy cruised to easy victories in their races against Mr. Shays, a former congressman, and Ms. Bysiewicz, a former secretary of the state, respectively, setting up a November showdown to replace the retiring U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Greenwich stayed true to the state figures, providing easy wins for both the nominees, though Mr. Shays ended up doing a little better than expected against Ms. McMahon, who as a town resident was expected to have a home field advantage here. According to the town clerk’s office, Ms. McMahon defeated Mr. Shays in Greenwich 1,939 votes to 1,473. For the Democrats, Mr. Murphy received 1,180 votes to Ms. Bysiewicz’s 219.

Ms. Vecchiolla told the Post that in District 8 there were 180 Democratic votes for her and poll workers to recount. Greenwich’s Republican Registrar of Voters Fred DeCaro, though, has a slightly more extensive job with 375 Republican ballots to examine. Ms. Vecchiolla said the ballots are currently sealed and locked away and on Sept. 10 they will be removed with the sealed bag opened and recounted by hand by paid poll workers to make sure the actual count matches the precinct moderator’s count from the voting machines.

This is not an unusual process for Greenwich. In fact the town is regularly picked for these kinds of audits. Mr. DeCaro told the Post that it was simply a numbers game. He said 10% of polling precincts in the state are chosen in the random lottery for the audit. Most towns in Connecticut only have one polling place; in fact Mr. DeCaro said he knows that the town of Bethlehem has never been chosen for an audit, but because Greenwich has 12 polling places it’s right up there with the largest municipalities in the state.

“The odds are we’re going to get it every time,” Mr. DeCaro said.

And in all the times that this has been done, Ms. Vecchiolla said things have gone according to plan.

“As far as I know, there’s never been a major issue,” Ms. Vecchiolla said.

Ms. Vecchiolla said overall Greenwich Democrats only had a 16% turnout for the primary.

“I would have thought more people would have come out, but August is not the best time to do a primary,” Ms. Vecchiolla said. “A lot of people are away. Now when we do this in November and it’s the presidential election and all the state races and for Congress, you can rest assured that turnout will be a lot greater.”

Mr. DeCaro said the close to 25% turnout he saw from Republicans actually exceeded his projections since the party had only gotten at 14% turnout for the presidential primary in April. Of course the McMahon/Shays race was hotly contested last month and by the time Connecticut’s primary for the presidency came, Mitt Romney had all but wrapped up the nomination.

“None of this can change the results of an election,” Mr. DeCaro said. “It’s a double check of the count. We’re making sure that all the correctly filled ovals on the ballots were counted correctly.”

Greenwich was actually tapped twice by the random lottery. North Street School, which is where Ms. McMahon herself went to vote in the primary, was chosen as an alternate location along with nine other precincts. Mr. DeCaro said this is done in case one of the precincts initially chosen was already the subject of a recount, either because the vote total had such a small margin of victory that it triggered the state’s automatic recount or because there had been questions about the results. That would have exempted the impacted precinct from the audit.

However, Mr. DeCaro said that as of Tuesday he had not been informed of any additional recounts in Greenwich and that they would go ahead only with District 8.

 

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